Wis. lawmakers take cash bail resolution to public hearing

Some state lawmakers are attempting to change Wisconsin’s bail system, calling it “broken,” while others aren’t convinced.
Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 7:00 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2023 at 7:14 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Some state lawmakers are attempting to change Wisconsin’s bail system, calling it “broken,” while others aren’t convinced.

A joint session Tuesday with a public hearing put a constitutional amendment on the line, as well as the way judges in Wisconsin could set bail amounts for violent crimes.

“Anyone paying attention knows that Wisconsin’s current system of bail is broken,” State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R - Racine) said in his opening remarks. “Time and again we see dangerous criminals released on low or no bail committing additional crimes.”

He hopes Senate Joint Resolution 2 will give Wisconsin judges more “flexibility” in setting cash bail.

Currently, judges in the state can use bail amounts to ensure a person accused of a crime will go to court. The proposal is to have judges consider more factors like past convictions and “serious harm” to a community.

“This is about a constitutional amendment that simply, simply, simply, simply allows judges to take into consideration dangerousness,” Michael Thurston, Waukesha Co. deputy district attorney, said at the hearing.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D - Milwaukee) said access to cash should not affect who’s released.

“Why are we not taking money out of the equation entirely?” Larson asked Wanggaard, testifying alongside State Rep. Cindi Duchow (R - Delafield). “Darrell Brooks would have committed it whether he may have done this, whether he had to pay $20,000 or $50,000. The money had nothing to do with it. He shouldn’t have been released, and we should change the system accordingly.”

Wanggaard had also named Darrell Brooks in his opening statement, pointing to how Brooks attacked the Waukesha Christmas parade in 2021 days after getting out of jail on a $1,000 bail.

Besides factors for setting bail, the proposal would also put judges on the record to justify the bail amount they chose.

The goal is to get the measure approved in the legislature so that it makes it to the spring ballot. That’s where voters can give the final say through a statewide referendum, which would amend the state constitution.

According to Wanggaard’s office, the deadline for the April ballot is Jan. 24. The Assembly committee is expected to vote Wednesday.

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